“Jasmine Revolution”
Symbol of peace: Flowers placed on the barrel of a tank
in very much calmer protests than in recent days in Tunisia

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011
Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi. "Mohammed suffered a lot. He worked hard. but when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity." (Peter Hapak for TIME)

1 - TUNISIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)


How eyepatches became a symbol of Egypt's revolution - Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch Photograph: Nasser Nasser/ASSOCIATED PRESS

2 - EGYPT Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)


''17 February Revolution"

3 - LIBYA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

5 - SYRIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

"25 January Youth Revolution"
Muslim and Christian shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
(Subjects: Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" (without a manager hierarchy) managed Businesses, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)
"The End of History" – Nov 20, 2010 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll)
(Subjects:Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, Jesus, God, Jews, Arabs, EU, US, Israel, Iran, Russia, Africa, South America, Global Unity,..... etc.) (Text version)

"If an Arab and a Jew can look at one another and see the Akashic lineage and see the one family, there is hope. If they can see that their differences no longer require that they kill one another, then there is a beginning of a change in history. And that's what is happening now. All of humanity, no matter what the spiritual belief, has been guilty of falling into the historic trap of separating instead of unifying. Now it's starting to change. There's a shift happening."


“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."



African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)
African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017 (AFP Photo/ Zacharias ABUBEKER)

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Few words can describe Nelson Mandela, so we let him speak for himself. Happy birthday, Madiba.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Many pitfalls in reform of Africa's CFA franc

Yahoo – AFP, Pierre DONADIEU with David ESNAULT in Abidjan, November 17, 2019

CFA banknotes issued by the Central Bank of West African States -- but the
currency's pegging to the euro is controversial and politically sensitive, prompting
moves to introduce a new currency, the eco (AFP Photo/ISSOUF SANOGO)

Paris (AFP) - Calls to overhaul the West African CFA franc, a currency tied to the euro and historically rooted in French colonial rule, raise a host of thorny problems, analysts say.

Eight countries use the euro-pegged West African CFA franc, which enjoys unlimited convertibility with the euro.

This is brought about by the countries depositing 50 percent of their reserves with the Bank of France, which guarantees payments into euros even if a CFA member state cannot cover import payments.

The link to France and the euro provides an important measure of financial stability -- but is politically sensitive in countries that have been independent from France for nearly six decades.

Earlier this year the 15 member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to adopt a single currency, the "eco", as early as next year.

As ECOWAS includes the eight members of West African Monetary Union (WAMU), the eco would supplant the CFA franc for those countries.

But prospects of earlier changes to the region's currency dramatically surfaced this month when Benin leader Patrice Talon said the WAMU states planned to pull their reserves from the Bank of France.

"We are all agreed, unanimously, that we should put an end to this model," Talon told French broadcasters RFI and France 24 on November 14.

He said there was a "psychological problem" with the CFA franc rather than a "technical" problem.

Fixed rate reduces risk

Ruben Nizard, an economist with export insurance firm Coface who focuses on Africa, sounded a loud note of caution.

"Withdrawing exchange reserves (from French supervision) would call into question one of the pillars of the franc zone," notably the convertibility guarantee offered by Paris, Nizard said.

If the guarantee is scrapped, this would open the door to questioning the franc's fixed exchange rate, of 655.96 CFA to the euro.

"Fixing the rate reduces the exchange risk for investors and exporters -- that's a great benefit," Nizard told AFP.

Africa's financial interests would be better served by severing the
fixed euro link and depositing reserves in Africa instead of France
as currently, say the proponents of reform (AFP Photo/
SEYLLOU DIALLO)

But critics of the CFA franc in its current form complain that the peg with the euro puts the economies of the CFA franc zone in a straitjacket.

They are tied to the eurozone's monetary policy, which is unsuited to their needs, they argue.

"It requires our central banks to follow very restrictive monetary policies," said Demba Moussa Dembele, a Senegalese economist and director of the Forum for African Alternatives think tank.

"The priority of African economies is not the fight against inflation -- they need investment and jobs."

But there are other factors in the debate, beyond management of monetary and economic policies.

"Changing the location of where reserves are held is above all a political and symbolic issue," said Noel Magloire Ndoba, a Congolese economist, consultant and former dean of Brazzaville's Faculty of Economic Sciences.

"Why not deposit these reserves with an African central bank? We are in the 21st century, Africa must take over management of its own central bank and currency," Ndoba argued.

Currency basket?

By severing the chain to the euro, West African countries would then be able to link the CFA franc to a basket of currencies, which would better suit the region's exporters, Ndoba said.

"We need to move to fixing it against a basket of currencies, the euro, the dollar, the yuan, which corresponds to Africa's trade partners -- Europe, the United States and China," he said.

Despite the unity proclaimed by Benin's president about pulling their reserves, it is unclear if all WAMU states are ready to make the move.

Ivory Coast, the leading economy among the eight countries that use the West African CFA franc, has refused to comment.

Withdrawing the reserves would appear a prerequisite for the "eco" to ever get off the ground.

Nigeria, whose oil-dependent economy accounts for two-thirds of the region's gross domestic product (GDP), has been sceptical about the benefits of a common currency.

But it has been clear that it wouldn't want the Bank of France to hold the reserves of the "eco".

For Nizard, Talon's statement was "perhaps a means of putting the subject back on the table."

France, for its part, is letting the CFA franc members decide what they want to do.

"If a majority of CFA zone member states wish to advance towards an ambitious reform we would say yes," French Finance Minister Bruno le Maire said.

Monday, November 11, 2019

'Sister protests': Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

Yahoo – AFP, Hashem Osseiran in Beirut and Maya Gebeily in Baghdad, 11 November 2019

A Baghdad street vendor sells flags of Iraq and Lebanon, both gripped by
anti-government protests

A Lebanese flag flutters in the protest-hit Iraqi capital. More than 900 kilometres (500 miles) away, a revolutionary Iraqi chant rings out from a bustling protest square in Beirut.

"Don't trust the rumours, they're a group of thieves," sings a group of Lebanese musicians in Iraqi dialect, referring to political leaders they deem incompetent and corrupt.

"The identity is Lebanese," they continue, reworking the chant by Iraqi preacher Ali Yusef al-Karbalai, made popular during the street movement there.

Such recent shows of solidarity have become a common feature of protest squares in the two countries, where corruption, unemployment and appalling public services have fuelled unprecedented street movements demanding the ouster of an entire political class.

They serve to "shed light on similarities between the two movements and boost morale", said Farah Qadour, a Lebanese oud musician.

"The two streets are observing and learning from each other," said the 26-year-old who is part of the group that adopted al-Karbalai's chant.

In Lebanon's southern city of Nabatiyeh, hundreds brandishing Lebanese flags chanted: "From Iraq to Beirut, one revolution that never dies."

And in the northern city of Tripoli, dubbed the "bride" of Lebanon's protest movement, a man standing on a podium waved a wooden pole bearing the flags of the two countries.

"From Lebanon to Iraq, our pain is one, our right is one, and victory is near," read a sign raised during another protest, outside Beirut's state-run electricity company.

'We're with you'

In Tahrir Square, the beating heart of Baghdad's month-old protest movement, demonstrators are selling Lebanese flags alongside Iraqi ones.

They have hung some on the abandoned Turkish restaurant, turned by Iraqi demonstrators into a protest control tower.

Banners reading "from Beirut to Baghdad, one revolution against the corrupt" could be seen throughout.

Lebanon and Iraq are ranked amongst the most corrupt countries in the region by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International, with Iraq listed as the 12th most corrupt in the world.

Public debt levels in both countries are relatively high, with the rate in Lebanon exceeding 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

"What's happening on the streets in Iraq and Lebanon, they're sister protests," said Samah, a 28-year-old Lebanese demonstrator.

Iraqi protesters stand under a banner reading "From Karbala to Beirut, one 
goal, one trench"

"They're the result of an accumulation" of years of problems.

One video that went viral on social media networks showed a masked Iraqi protester dressed in military fatigues demanding the resignation of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, one of the main targets of protesters in the small Mediterranean country.

In a video released online, a group of young Iraqi men had filmed themselves singing, "Lebanon, we're with you!"

The two movements also seem to be adopting similar protest strategies.

In both countries, rows of parked vehicles have blocked traffic along main thoroughfares in recent weeks.

University-aged demonstrators wearing medical masks or eye goggles have occupied bridges and flyovers, refusing to believe pledges of reform from both governments.

'The goal is one'

The big difference is that in Iraq, the demonstrations have turned deadly, with more than 300 people, mostly protesters but also including security forces, killed since the movement started October 1.

Lebanon's street movement, which started on October 17, has been largely incident-free despite scuffles with security forces and counter-demonstrators rallying in support of established parties.

The two movements, however, are united in their anger about the kind of political system that prioritises power-sharing between sects over good governance.

The consecutive governments born out of this system have been prone to deadlock and have failed to meet popular demands for better living conditions.

"We are united by a sense of patriotic duty in confronting this sectarian political system," said Obeida, a 29-year-old protester from Tripoli.

He said he had high hopes for Iraqi protesters because the sectarian power-sharing system there is relatively new, having emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"In Lebanon, it's more entrenched," he said of the arrangement that ended the country's 1975-1990 civil war.

On a Beirut waterfront, dotted with luxury restaurants and cafes, a 70-year-old Iraqi man who has been living in Lebanon for five years looked on as demonstrators laid out picnic blankets on the grass.

With a Lebanese flag wrapped around his neck, Fawzi said the protests looked different but reminded him of those back home.

"The goal is one," he said.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Triggered by MP's disgrace, Tunisia's #MeToo breaks taboos

France24 – AFP, 10 November 2019


Tunis (AFP) - Viral images of a Tunisian lawmaker allegedly masturbating outside a high school have sparked the country's own #MeToo moment, with sex abuse victims breaking taboos under the hashtag #EnaZeda.

Discussion of sexual harassment had previously been limited to a few edgy TV shows, but now thousands of women in the North African nation are sharing their experiences from lecherous remarks to paedophilia.

A video showing the moustachioed politician sitting in a car with his trousers dropped to his knees was shot last month by a student who shared it online alongside accusations of harassment.

The newly elected lawmaker denies inappropriate conduct and has said he was urinating due to a medical condition -- even threatening his accuser when pursued by prosecutors.

#EnaZeda -- Tunisian Arabic for #MeToo -- was inspired by the huge global movement that bloomed in 2017 in the wake of sexual assault allegations by multiple women against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

It has given some in Tunisia the confidence to confront their harassers face-to-face.

"Tonight, I have cried all the tears from my body. Tonight, I was harassed and nobody took the trouble to react," wrote one internet user Lina Kaboudi.

But "unlike all the other nights, I dared to respond to the perpetrator. I did not keep walking, pretending I had not heard.

"I stopped, and I held him to account".

Breaking taboos

Tunisia is considered a pioneer on women's rights in the Arab world and was the first predominantly Muslim country to abolish polygamy in 1956.

But the taboo on confronting sexual misconduct remains strong, especially within the family.

It is rare for victims to pursue formal complaints, despite sexual harassment in public places being punishable by a one-year prison term and a fine of 3,000 dinar (around 1,000 euros) since July 2017.

To catalogue the avalanche of testimony, Tunisian activists have set up private Facebook groups including one simply named #EnaZeda, which has more than 20,000 members.

Poignant accounts, some anonymous, are shared daily in the group -- ranging from rape and incest to inappropriate behaviour by teachers or celebrities and molestation on public transport.

Activists say they have been surprised by the volume and variety of the stories, and NGO Aswat Nissa (Voice of Women) says it has collected more than 70,000 testimonies.

"Then women, and sometimes men too, shared their stories, so now we are trying to organise workshops with psychologists."

Bouattour said she has received messages from parents who have "broken the family taboo by talking about sexual harassment with their children, after reading testimonies about paedophilia".

'Didn't lift a finger'

Traditional attitudes and apathy among some in power mean the nascent #EnaZeda initiative faces an uphill battle.

Kaboudi -- the woman who called out street harassment -- laments the passivity of the police, who "were a few feet away" and did not "lift a little finger" to help her when she was harassed.

She also despairs of witnesses who similarly "did nothing".

In an attempt to break the silence, in October the Centre for Research, Study, Documentation and Information on Women (Credif) launched an awareness campaign about sexual harassment on public transport.

Dubbed "the harasser #MaYerkebch (does not ride) with us", the initiative includes an app that uses a chat bot to speak to a harasser on behalf of a victim of witness and remind them of the law.

Najla Allani, director of Credif, told AFP the app states out loud the type of sexual misdemeanour and location, in a voice that speaks firmly in local dialect to "intimidate and scare the harasser".

"People dare not speak (themselves) out of fear, but with this voice app, they will be better able to react", Allani said.

An evaluation of the experimental initiative later this month will decide if it continues, so long as "the financial means allow it", she added.

It remains to be seen how big a contribution #EnaZeda will make to Tunisia's battle against sexual harassment, but one thing is sure -- the shroud of silence is no longer so suffocating.

Related Article:


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Rwandan opposition leader launches new political party

Yahoo – AFP, November 9, 2019

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has created a new opposition party
called Dalfa Umurunzi (Development And Liberty For All) (AFP Photo/Cyril NDEGEYA)

Kigali (AFP) - Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire announced Saturday she was launching a new political party, hoping it will be allowed to operate in a country where the ruling regime has no real rival.

Ingabire's previous party FDU-Inkingi, which she founded while in exile in 2016, was not recognised by the government of long-ruling President Paul Kagame.

She was imprisoned until receiving a presidential pardon last year from Kagame, whom she regularly accuses of suppressing freedom of speech, repressing the opposition and neglecting the country's poor.

"I am announcing the launch of a new opposition party," Ingabire told AFP, saying it would be called Dalfa Umurunzi (Development And Liberty For All).

"This will help me to continue the mission that had been assigned to me by the FDU-Inkingi party," she added.

"The political space in this country is very limited but we are ready to fulfil all legal requirements for registration and conduct our activities in accordance to the laws of the nation."

She returned from exile in The Netherlands intending to run for president in 2010 as FDU-Inkingi's leader.

But she was arrested, charged with terrorism and sentenced to more than a decade in jail during a widely criticised trial. She was unexpectedly granted early release alongside more than 2,000 other prisoners in September last year.

Ingabire, an ethnic Hutu, was accused of "genocide ideology" and "divisiveness" after publicly questioning the government narrative of the 1994 genocide of mostly Tutsi people that killed around 800,000 people.

Numerous FDU-Inkingi members have disappeared or been killed in mysterious circumstances over the last few years. The party accuses the government of brutally cracking down on dissenting voices.

One member was stabbed near the capital Kigali in September, while party spokesman Anselm Mutuyimana was kidnapped in March, his body later found in a forest.

Although Rwanda is constitutionally a multi-party system there is practically no opposition, with most of the recognised parties supporting the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Kagame, the de facto ruler since his rebel army stopped the genocide in 1994, has been praised for bringing stability and economic growth to his tiny nation but often comes under fire for restricting political freedom.

He commonly wins re-election with more than 90 percent of the vote.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Congolese 'Terminator' warlord gets 30-year ICC sentence

Yahoo – AFP, Danny KEMP, November 7, 2019

Ntaganda was sentenced on a litany of crimes including directing massacres of
civilians in Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile, mineral-rich Ituri region in 2002
and 2003 (AFP Photo/EVA PLEVIER)

The Hague (AFP) - A Congolese rebel chief nicknamed the "Terminator" received a 30-year jail term from the International Criminal Court on Thursday for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the longest ever sentence given out by the tribunal.

Bosco Ntaganda was convicted in July of offences including murder, sexual slavery and using child soldiers in a mineral-rich region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the early 2000s.

Most of the charges against Rwandan-born Ntaganda, 46, related to a series of gruesome massacres of villagers carried out by his fighters.

"Murder was committed on a large scale," presiding judge Robert Flemr said, adding that the Hague-based court had taken the "particular cruelty" of some of Ntaganda's actions into account.

"The overall sentence imposed on you shall therefore be 30 years of imprisonment."

Judges gave him the maximum possible sentence in terms of the number of years but said that "despite their gravity" his crimes did not warrant a full-life prison term.

Ntaganda, dressed in a blue suit and shirt and wearing a red tie, showed no emotion as the sentence was passed in the high-security courtroom.

An ICC spokesman confirmed it was the heaviest ever sentence handed down to date by the court, which was set up in 2002 to try the world's worst crimes.

Ntaganda has already appealed against his conviction earlier this year on 13 counts of war crimes and five of crimes against humanity -- which saw him become the first to be convicted by the ICC of sexual enslavement.

He now has 30 days to appeal against the sentence.

'Held to account'

Human Rights Watch welcomed the prison term.

"Bosco Ntaganda's 30-year sentence sends a strong message that even people considered untouchable may one day be held to account," said Ida Sawyer, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Africa division.

"While his victims’ pain cannot be erased, they can take some comfort in seeing justice prevail."

A refugee from the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, Ntaganda emerged as a ruthless driver of ethnic Tutsi revolts that subsequently convulsed neighbouring DRC.

Judges said Ntaganda was a "key leader" of the Union of Congolese Patriots rebel group and its military wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), in the DRC's volatile Ituri region in 2002 and 2003.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since the violence erupted in Ituri, according to rights groups, as militias battle each other for control of mineral resources.

The court heard fearful villagers dubbed him "Terminator", after the film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a merciless robotic killer, during two bloody operations by Ntaganda's soldiers against civilians in rival villages in 2002 and 2003.

Fighters loyal to him carried out atrocities such as a massacre in a banana field behind a village in which at least 49 people including children and babies were disembowelled or had their heads smashed in.

No mitigating factors

Ntaganda received a series of sentences ranging from eight to 30 years, with ICC rules saying that the overall prison term must reflect the highest individual sentence.

He got 30 years for murder and attempted murder, with judges saying he was directly guilty of the murder of Catholic priest and indirectly responsible for many others by directing the military offensives. He also received a 30-year sentence for persecution.

Ntaganda further received 28 years for the "systematic" rape of "women, girls and men" including girls aged nine and 11; a sentence 14 years for the sex slavery of child soldiers recruited by his group; and 12 years for the sexual enslavement of civilian children.

Judges said they found no mitigating factors, despite defence arguments that he was himself a victim of the Rwandan genocide.

Ntaganda -- known for his pencil moustache and a penchant for fine dining -- said during his trial that he was "soldier not a criminal" and that the "Terminator" nickname did not apply to him.

After the Ituri conflict, Ntaganda was integrated into the Congolese army and was a general from 2007 to 2012, but then became a founding member of the M23 rebel group in a new uprising against the government.

In 2013 Ntaganda became the first ever suspect to surrender to the court, after walking into the US embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

The six years Ntaganda has already served in custody will be deducted from his sentence, the ICC said.

Ntaganda's former FPLC commander Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2012.

The conviction was seen as a boost for the ICC after several high-profile suspects walked free. The court has also been criticised for mainly trying African suspects.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Nigerian sex slavery trial opens in France

Yahoo – AFP, Pierre PRATABUY and Clare BYRNE, November 6, 2019

One of the Nigerian defendants in a Lyon courtroom on Wednesday ahead of the
opening of a trial into alleged human trafficking and pimping of migrants in
France. (AFP Photo/ROMAIN LAFABREGUE)

Lyon (AFP) - Twenty-four alleged members of a trafficking ring accused of forcing Nigerian women into prostitution in France went on trial Wednesday, in the latest case to highlight the increasing use of migrants as sex slaves in Europe.

Only one of the 17 alleged victims was present for the first appearance of the accused in the court in the southeastern city of Lyon -- 10 women and 14 men, all but one Nigerian.

They risk 10 years' imprisonment on charges including human trafficking, pimping, money laundering and helping people live illegally in France.

Nigeria was the main country of origin for the tens of thousands of migrants who arrived in Italy by boat in 2016 and 2017.

Many were women and girls lured to Europe with false promises of jobs as hairdressers or seamstresses, only to find themselves selling sex to repay their smugglers.

Nigerians outnumber Chinese or Eastern European sex workers on the streets of France and some other European countries.

Last year, 15 members of a Paris-based, female-led pimping ring known as the "Authentic Sisters" -- many themselves former trafficking victims -- were jailed for up to 11 years for forcing girls into slavery in France.

Similar gangs have been dismantled in Italy and Britain.

The investigation in Lyon, where police estimate half the city's sex workers are Nigerian, began after authorities received a tip-off about a Nigerian pastor accused of exploiting sex workers who lived in apartments he owned.

Months of police wiretaps and surveillance of the pastor, Stanley Omoregie, and others led to the arrest of the suspects between September 2017 and January 2018.

Omoregie, 35, denied any wrongdoing, telling the court that he "wanted to help people" and that while he lodged the women in exchange for rent, he knew nothing of their activities.

"May God strike me down right now if any girl worked for me," he said. "I've always been against pimping."

But in wiretaps, when Omoregie is heard asking a woman identified as Bella where she is, she answers "at work."

"With Blessing?" he then asks, referring to another woman. "You're not in the same place?"

In another call read to the court, Omoregie asks if a woman is using the heater in her truck -- something she would have to pay extra for.

Omoregie told the court investigators had mistranslated the transcriptions of his calls.

- From prostitution to pimping -

The prosecution has presented the pastor as the kingpin of a family-based syndicate that includes one of Europe's most wanted women, Jessica Edosomwan, accused of recruiting destitute women in Nigeria for the sex trade in Lyon, Nimes and Montpellier in France.

Edosomwan, who is believed to be on the run in Europe, will be tried in her absence.

The UN estimates that 80 percent of young Nigerian women arriving in Italy -- usually their first port of call in Europe -- are already in the clutches of prostitution networks, or quickly fall under their control.

The accused in Lyon allegedly covered the entire gamut of sex trafficking activities, from iron-fisted "madams" and violent pimps to the drivers of vans in which the women performed sex acts, and those who laundered the proceeds.

Prosecutors estimate the victims, aged 17 to 38, made up to 150,000 euros ($166,000) a month for the syndicate by selling sex for as little as 10 euros.

Most of the women come from Benin City, capital of Nigeria's southern Edo State, a human trafficking hotbed.

Many told investigators they had taken part in "juju" or black magic rituals before leaving Nigeria, during which they had to promise to repay the money for their passage to Europe.

The trip often started with a perilous trek across the Sahara Desert to Libya, then across the Mediterranean to Italy, and finally to Lyon.

The victims' lawyers told the court Wednesday the women were absent because they feared coming under pressure from the accused or their representatives at court.

Unusually, one of the 17 victims in the case is also among the accused: a 28-year-old former prostitute who was released from sex slavery after paying off her debts only to then bring another young woman from Nigeria.

She was the only victim present.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Nigeria police rescue 259 'hostages' from another Islamic centre

Yahoo – AFP, November 5, 2019

Before Monday's case in Ibadan, Nigeria police rescued 300 young men from
an Islamic boarding school, seen here, in the north in September (AFP Photo/STR)

Lagos (AFP) - Police in southwest Nigeria have rescued 259 "hostages" from another Islamic correctional centre, police said Tuesday, in the latest raid on religious institutes accused of abuse.

Police have cracked down on several Islamic boarding schools and centres over the past month, often in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, freeing hundreds of inmates who were tortured and kept in inhumane conditions.

"We discovered on Monday young men, women and children who were held hostage in an illegal detention centre at a mosque in the Ojoo area of Ibadan," police spokesman Fadeyi Olugbenga told AFP, after the rescue in the country's southwest.

"259 people were locked up there and crying for help," he said.

The owner of the centre and eight others were arrested by police, who were alerted by an 18-year-old who had escaped conditions that officials described as "dungeon-like".

Pictures carried by local media showed emaciated young men and boys, with their skin stretched against their ribs, sitting outside the centre in the city of Ibadan.

"Some had been there for years and had health challenges. They're currently receiving medical attention," Olugbenga said.

"The ones we interviewed told us they were fed once every three days, sometimes even less."

The spate of police raids since late September has shone a spotlight the widespread system of unregulated Islamic institutes across the country.

In each case, similar horrific revelations have come to light of adults and young children, some suffering from mental illnesses or drug abuse, detained in chains, starved of food, and physically or sexually abused.

Lacking facilities

The centres are common in Africa's most populous country due to a chronic lack of government services.

They are touted as a means to help parents cure their children of drug abuse and other behavioural problems in the absence of support from the state.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who hails from the majority Muslim north of the country, in October condemned the abuse.

"No responsible democratic government would tolerate the existence of the torture chambers and physical abuses of inmates in the name of rehabilitation," he said in a statement.

In June the president said he planned to ban private Islamic schools -- known locally as Almajiri schools -- widespread across the country, yet has given no further plans.

According to Hassan Idayat, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, the government is partially responsible for the proliferation of these institutions.

"It is widespread because of the dearth of mental health institutions," she said. "The government needs to urgently invest in mental health."

Monday, November 4, 2019

Nigerian contemporary art booms and prices soar

Yahoo – AFP, Célia LEBUR, November 2, 2019

Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu's work entitled 'Tutu' - the African Mona Lisa -- was
one of the works that captured the emergence of Nigeria's art market (AFP Photo/
BEN STANSALL)

Lagos (AFP) - First there was Tutu, the "African Mona Lisa" sold last year for 1.5 million dollars. Then a second portrait by revered Nigerian painter Ben Enwonwu, called Christine, sold in mid-October, for 1.4 million dollars.

Both record sales of famous works by the late "father of African modernism", captured the emergence of Nigeria's art market.

A decade ago, major African artists were largely absent from international auctions. But the continent is now a major attraction in contemporary and modern art.

Since his death in 1994, Enwonwu's star has only risen, epitomising the growing industry and value for art.

His two masterpieces, were sold by two of London's most prestigious auction houses, Bonhams and Sotheby's.

"Africa is one of the fastest growing markets in the art world today, and Nigeria is equal on the top with South Africa," Giles Peppiatt, director of African art at Bonhams, told AFP.

His auction house was one of the first in Europe to bet big on the continent with "Africa Now" beginning in 2007, auctioning African art as a stand alone sale.

In the vibrant commercial capital of Lagos, with 20 million people, its cultural season, awash with literary fashion and art festivals, culminates this weekend with the international fair "ART X".

Three years after it began, the fair has emerged as one of the premier art events on the continent, exhibiting the rich array of African modern and contemporary art.

Nigerian artist Queen Nwaneri paints during the Art X event in Lagos (AFP Photo/
EMMANUEL AREWA)

The famous Tutu, "lost" for almost 40 years and spectacularly found in 2018, almost by chance, in a London apartment, was the surprise attraction of the last edition, drawing several thousand attendees.

A show-reel of Nollywood's actresses, traditional leaders, wealthy collectors and artists trooped to the painting of the mysterious Yoruba princess.

At the end of the year, Nigeria's economic-hub becomes awash with glamor and arts.

Thousands of visitors rush from one exhibition to another, from ART X to the Lagos Biennale of contemporary art, Lagos fashion week and LagosPhoto, all of which take place between October and November.

But alongside the art, is an increasing market and appetite amongst investors and collectors.

New galleries like Art Twenty One have opened in recent years.

And the auction house Art House Contemporary Limited, whose turnover is more modest than that of its European peers, regularly exhibits the most notable artists in the region: Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, El Anatsui or Peju Alatise.

Collectors or investors?

This year, some twenty galleries and more than 90 artists will be represented at ART X, with representatives from Tate Modern (London) and Smithsonian (Washington) expected to attend.

Creative audio installations by renowned artist, Emeka Ogboh, based between Berlin and Lagos, will grace the background of the anticipated fouth edition of the fair.

If the appetite for contemporary African art continues to grow, apart from outliers that exceed one million dollars, the majority of works are still sold at "reasonable" prices in comparison with the rest of the world: "between $10,000 and $60,000," Peppiatt says.

This year, some twenty galleries and more than 90 artists will be represented at 
ART X, with representatives from Tate Modern and Smithsonian expected to
attend (AFP Photo/EMMANUEL AREWA)

"Events like Art X are changing the game, they enable cities like Lagos to shine and attract many enthusiastic collectors," he explains. "This is a very exciting moment."

The West African oil giant and largest economy on the continent has a growing middle class of rich bankers and industrialists, with a burgeoning appetite for purchasing contemporary art.

The biggest bids still take place in Europe, where the market is better structured, and better protected against fake works.

Yet collectors increasingly fly to buy works in London or New York and then bring them back to Africa, says Jess Castellote, director of the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, a private museum that will open next year in the suburbs of Lagos.

"There are collectors, art lovers who want to reconnect with their culture, their legacy," he says, explaining that as well as art enthusiasts, serious investors have taken interest in art.

In Nigeria, as in South Africa, multi-million dollar investment funds have sprung up to acquire works and resell them as dearly as possible, again betting on a rising demand for art.

"Rich Nigerians who used to spend 250,000 pounds ($320,000) on a watch or a luxury car now prefer to invest in a painting or a sculpture," Castellote says.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

New cocoa deals help peasant farmers, but not enough

Yahoo – AFP, David Esnault in Abidjan with AFP bureau, November 3, 2019

Cocoa farmers use hooked knives to break open the cocoa pods on a plantation
near Sinfra in Ivory Coast's Central region (AFP Photo/ISSOUF SANOGO)

Abidjan (AFP) - The willingness of some multinational firms to pay a cost-of-living bonus for African cocoa planters is welcome but will not save many farmers from grinding poverty, industry sources say.

Ivory Coast and Ghana, which together account for more than 60 percent of global cocoa production, initiated deals with chocolate makers in July, adding a "living income differential" (LID) to prices.

Barry Callebaut and Nestle, two world leaders in cocoa products, confirmed that they would pay a supplement of $400 (almost 360 euros) per tonne above the market price to help farmers, in the wake of announcements during an October meeting of the World Cocoa Foundation in Berlin.

The neighbouring West African countries in June said they would set the minimum price per tonne at $2,600 (2,330 euros) for the 2020/2021 season.

Nestle "have already started buying 2020/2021 cocoa with the living income differential", declared the world's largest food and beverage company in a statement.

"The LID will help improve farmers' living income and complement all our efforts to improving the lives of farmers," it said.

Barry Callebaut, another firm with headquarters in Switzerland, declared that it agrees with the principle enabling the Ivorian and Ghanaian governments to back a minimum cocoa price to cocoa farmers.

'Historic!'

The firm stressed that the LID should be "executed in a way which contributes to sustainability and structurally improves farmer livelihoods, without inducing further expansion of cocoa production into forests."

"This is historic! The two countries together have managed to convince private buyers to raise the purchase price so that producers can earn more," Michel Arrion, executive director of the International Cocoa Organisation (ICO), told AFP.

October cocoa harvest time for a farmer in central Ivory Coast (AFP Photo/
ISSOUF SANOGO)

Ivory Coast, with 40 percent of world production, and Ghana, with 20 percent, pressed hard for a deal that would benefit cocoa planters, who receive only six percent of a global market for cocoa and chocolate valued at $100 billion per year.

The purchase price of cocoa to Ivorian farmers was set at 825 CFA francs (1.25 euros) per kilogram at October's opening of the new cocoa year, a raise of 10 percent, according to the Coffee Cocoa Council (CCC).

Experts in Ivory Coast say that cocoa prices are still too low, even with the LID, since more than half of the million people working in the sector live below the poverty line, earning less than $1.2 per day according to the World Bank.

'Won't change a thing'

"This is a plus for the producers, but even if they were to get the whole of the price increase, it wouldn't lift them out of poverty," said one expert who asked not to be named.

The LID should provide for payments of 1,000 CFA francs (1.52 euros / $1.70) per kilo to Ivorian planters, an improvement on 825 CFA francs (1.25 euros), said Romeo Dou, an agricultural engineer.

His company Microfertile helps cocoa-growing cooperatives to improve cultivation and to process raw cocoa into semi-finished products such as cocoa butter and powder to benefit from the added value.

By way of taxes and intermediaries on the ground, from tax collectors to cooperatives and exporters, the Ivorian state intends to profit from the LID, Dou said.

He believes cocoa planters will end up receiving 60 percent of the LID and the remaining 40 percent would wind up in other hands.

"Even 1,000 CFA francs won't change a thing in the lives of the planters," Dou said.

"The LID business worries us... Which mechanism of the Ivorian state is going to make sure that cocoa planters receive the money they are owed?" asked Moussa Kone, president of a farmers' union.

Kone said that bonuses due to farmers in the name of international fair trade schemes were going unpaid. "For planters to get out of a rut, we need a price of 3,000 CFA francs par kilo," he estimated.

Dou and the anonymous expert both estimated that the sector could only really support one in five of the current planters, or even just one in ten, if they aren't to live in poverty.

"We have to produce better, in an intensive way, on smaller land areas, with well-trained planters. It will take political courage to reform the sector," Dou said.